Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship


Credit: Walter Lord

The dramatic fate of the “unsinkable ship” is probably the best known event in the history of maritime disasters.  There was so much clout on the technological advances on this superstructure, that many firmly believed that this steamship would prove that man was invincible.  “Not even God can sink this ship”, many arrogant passengers said.  The marketing pamphlets said something similar to promote sales.

At the end of the day, the Titanic met its destiny.  At exactly 11:40 a.m., April 14, 1912, the luxury ocean liner Titanic, making her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, had a rendezvous with an iceberg in the calm, dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

She brushed the ice so gently that many on board didn’t notice it, but so lethally that she was instantly doomed.  In a very short time, totally unexpected by the ship’s crew, the Titanic floundered to the ocean’s floor two and a half miles down.  The clock struck 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912 when the ocean covered the majestic ship taking 1,502 souls down with her.

Only minutes before, Band master Hartley tapped his violin.  The ragtime ended, and the stains of the Episcopal hymn “Autumn” flowed across the deck and drifted in the still night far out over the water.  The passengers on the sixteen lifeboats rowing nearby heard the music, prayed and cried.

The ice that shaved the Titanic was perhaps 100 feet above the water.  When it collided with the vessel, some passengers heard “an unpleasant ripping sound…like someone tearing a long, long strip of calico.”  The berg scraped the ship a little higher than the Boat Deck.  “Then came that thud…the grinding, tearing sound…”  Put together, the fact showed a 300-foot gash, with the first five compartments hopelessly flooded.

About ten miles away Third Officer Charles Victor Groves stood on the bridge of the Leyland Liner Californian bound from London to Boston, but they decided to stay put.

The Titanic had sixteen wooden lifeboats on the Boat Deck and four collapsible lifeboats known as Englehardts lettered ABC and D.  Together the boats could carry 1,178 people.  On this Sunday evening, there were 2,297 people on board the Titanic.  Due to insufficient space on board the lifeboats, 1,029 people would drown in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.  The temperature of the water was 28 degrees F.

The Titanic carried 3,500 life belts and 48 life rings.  Useless in the icy water.  The majority of passengers that went into the sea, did not drown, but froze to death.  They didn’t stand a chance of surviving in the freezing waters.

The Carpathia, which was sailing from New York to the Mediterranean (Gibraltar, Genoa, Naples, Trieste and Fiume) turned around to rescue the survivors.  Its master was Captain Arthur H. Rostron, who had been at sea for 27 years—with Cunard for seventeen.  It was 58 miles away.  At 14 knots it would reach the wreck in about four hours.  At 4:10 a.m., April 15, 1912, the first survivor, Miss Elizabeth Allen was rescued by the Carpathia.  At 8:50 a.m., Carpathia heads for New York with 705 survivors.

Even though I had seen James Cameron’s picture, The Titanic, I decided to read two books written by Walter Lord about this unfortunate event, (e.g., “A Night to Remember” and “The Night Lives On”).  Last evening I finished the first one.  Today I will continue with the second one.  There is so much to learn from this catastrophe, now that we are building bigger and more advanced passenger vessels.  Maritime experts say these modern cruise ships are “too big to fail”.  Now, where have I heard that before?

To give you an idea of how well the book was written, I’ll share with you a brief excerpt of the Walter Lord’s book, “A Night to Remember”:

“In 1898 a struggling author named Morgan Robertson concocted a novel about a fabulous Atlantic liner, far larger than any that had ever been built.  Robertson loaded his ship with rich and complacent people and then wrecked in one cold April night on an iceberg.  This somehow showed the futility of everything and in fact, the book was called ‘Futility’ when it appeared that year, published by the firm of M.F. Mansfield.

Fourteen years later, a British shipping company named The White Star Line, built a steamer remarkably like the one in Robertson’s novel. The new liner was 66,000 tons displacement; Robertson’s was 70,000. The real ship was 882.5 feet long, the fictional one was 800 feet.  Both vessels were triple screw and could make 24-25 knots. Both could carry about 3,000 people, and both had enough lifeboats for only a fraction of this number.  But, then, this didn’t seem to matter because both were labeled ‘unsinkable.’

On April 10, 1912, the real ship left Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York. Her cargo included a priceless copy of the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám and a list of passengers collectively worth two hundred fifty million dollars. On her way over she too struck an iceberg and went down on a cold April night.

Robertson called his ship the Titan; the White Star Line called its ship the Titanic. This is the story of her last night.”

Before the Titanic, all was quiet.  Afterward all was tumult.  That is why, to anybody who lived at the time, the Titanic more than any other single event, marks the end of the old days and the beginning of a new, uneasy era.  This huge vessel was in a certain way, a little encapsulation of the world.

“The luxury liner is such an exquisite microcosm of the Edwardian world, illuminating so perfectly the class distinctions that prevailed at the time.  These distinctions remained sacred even as the ship was going down.”

Furthermore, below you will find a YouTube video produced by James Cameron, dubbed “Titanic:  The Final Word” which explains the scientific facts surrounding the founder of this majestic ship and how it cracked in half before going under.  The data is mind-boggling.  If you enjoy reading about historic events and maritime themes in general, please click this link to enjoy the video.

7 thoughts on “Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship”

  1. Hello Eagle-Eyed Editor:

    Captain Rostron did such an outstanding performance aiding the survivors of the Titanic, he was knighted by the British Empire. He represented the high human values of the Edwardian era of the former British Empire. I’m afraid that spirit has faded over the years.

    Thank you for dropping a comment. I know you enjoy reading because I follow your blog posts as soon as they are available at your site.

    Warm Regards,

    Omar.-

  2. After the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, events surrounding the Titanic actually played a role in the legal wrangling. I’d forgotten I wrote about it. I didn’t see a comment from you, so you may not have seen it. It’s a very, very interesting connection with the events you’ve written about so well here.

    There’s just something so compelling about the whole thing. You’d think people would get bored with it, but it hasn’t happened yet.

  3. Morning Linda:

    There is something about the Titanic event that is embedded in the minds of the public everywhere. Even though it happened more than one hundred years ago, the tragic maritime disaster is still remembered. In fact it’s remembered more today then when in happened in 1912. Like a ghost hovering above the cold sea, it just won’t go away.

    I’ll take a look at your link as soon as I have my breakfast. It’s now 7:38 a.m. We overslept today after watching on TV a late soccer game (Costa Rica versus Panama). We lost 2-0. Ce’st la vie.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

  4. The ship listed increasingly as did panic, but acts of heroism also took place on and beneath decks of RMS Titanic, where, as the water flooded into the rooms, the passengers who were initially reluctant to leave the ship thinking it unnecessary, began to understand the gravity of the accident.

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